Founder Apollo Woods on culinary conversations and collaborations.
An unexpected twist in events is sometimes the best calling card to one’s future purpose. Little did OKC Black Eats founder Apollo Woods know what was in store when his job offered the opportunity to come back home to his birthplace in southwest Oklahoma. Woods’ return would be several years later after moving to Houston, Texas to work in the oil and gas industry.
“I didn’t have these plans to get into the restaurant space here,” says Woods, who brought together some friends for a brunch meetup once to enjoy the local food scene. “I noticed there was a really large boom in the number of restaurant concepts that were showing up in Oklahoma, which was amazing. But I was having a difficult time trying to find minority businesses and especially Black-owned restaurants.”
Finding an Answer
Accustomed to going on a particular website or magazine to find this information, but not seeing the representation in his area, Woods drove around trying to find a Black-owned restaurant or specialty food trucks. Meanwhile, he was encouraged to continue organizing the foodie meetups everyone enjoyed. In July 2017, the idea for OKC Black Eats began taking shape for Woods.
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Later that August, after the first brunch at a restaurant that had about 60 plus people show up throughout the day, the business was born. “We would have an average of 200 people over the course of 4–4.5 hours coming to a restaurant for the first time. For one particular restaurant that had been around almost 11 years, 57 people visited for the first time,” he says.
Now OKC Black Eats is a marketing and consulting firm focused on small businesses and a platform for black restaurants and culinary talent in Oklahoma City. One of the signature events that Woods hosts is the Black Foodie Summit, a culinary expo for Black chefs and restaurants. Another is Black Restaurant Bingo, an inclusive activity encouraging people of the city to play by visiting different black-owned restaurants.
Uncovering OKC’s Culinary Stars
“In the first year, we estimated about $114,000 in revenue was generated from supporting different restaurants,” Woods shares. The events are just one aspect of what OKC Black Eats does. Woods also offers services such as food photography, videography and project management to give restaurants a full-service marketing experience.
Also in the works is a directory Woods created that currently includes 48 Black-owned brick and mortar restaurants and he is aiming for the 50 mark. He has discovered close to 19 black-owned food trucks and about 14 black chefs who have gone to culinary school and several home-based caterers and pastry chefs. In doing so, he uncovered and documented 117 black culinary personalities.
Among them is chef Dwayne Johnson, who owns Brielle’s Bistro. Known for Louisiana-style cuisine, he offers meatloaf, chicken fried steak, blueberry beignets, blackened catfish, crawfish étouffée and gumbo. Another spot is Off The Hook Seafood And More owned and operated by chef Corey Harris and his wife Loneisha. Woods says, “Being in a landlocked state, the restaurant has some of the best seafood and creative non-typical menu items, understands how to pair things together and is known for his seafood fries.”
Raising the Bar
OKC Black Eats is also involved in culinary education, so Woods is working on a pilot program on food and agriculture with the local university. “In low-income communities, food deserts and inequality are a huge issue, so bridging the gap between whole foods and non-processed foods, and delivering those to communities of color, helps with quality of life and health awareness,” he says.
Aligned with that effort is a focus on connecting the dots from getting fresh produce from local farmers to restaurants and households. He adds, “Understanding the impact of farming, because we have about 30+ farmers within a 50-mile radius of OKC, and how I can be a part of the solution to support this connection between farmers and restaurants, to increase their production, is important.”
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This would get more locally grown products into restaurants and communities, but Woods wants to take it a step further. Another goal is to work with local universities and their agriculture programs to educate families about learning how to grow food on their own. Promoting the benefits of food, as it relates to mental health, obesity, and community gathering, Woods shares, “Food is the glue that keeps people together and can open conversations. It is a powerful tool, for culture, for community, and for generating those revenue dollars for community members to have an increased quality of life.”